Scottish Labour challenged on tuition fees and social inequality


  Labour must come clean with students and the vulnerable on the issue of tuition fees and welfare, the SNP has said as Labour MP Anas Sarwar gives a speech today that places social inequality high on the agenda.

The nationalists have also demanded that Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont explain her party’s attacks on universality at a time when vulnerable Scots are suffering the imposition of unfair and undemocratic taxes from Westminster.

Ahead of a crunch debate in the Scottish Parliament on tuition fees, the SNP has warned that past experience shows that introducing any kind of fees for Higher Education would open the floodgates to ever increasing charges.

After Labour’s introduction of a flat £1,000 annual fee in 1997 – a move which broke a pre-election commitment – further promises were broken by allowing top-up fees of £3,000 a year to be introduced in England, which have since trebled to up to £9,000 a year.  This is an increase of 800% since tuition fees were first introduced south of the border.

In contrast, the SNP has pointed out that one of its earliest acts on first coming to office was to abolish front-end or backdoor tuition fees, restoring the principle of education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay for students in Scotland.

Commenting, SNP MSP Clare Adamson – who sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee – said:

“The SNP is the only major political party to consistently vote against upfront and backdoor tuition fees, an area where Labour and the Lib Dems have a legacy of betrayal.

“With her Westminster deputy Anas Sarwar commenting on social inequality, after 13 years of a Labour government in which inequality actually increased, it is clear the Westminster system has clearly missed every opportunity under all kinds of governments to tackle the issue.”

In early releases of a speech he is to make today, Mr Sarwar has attacked the SNP claiming the party has abandoned social justice.  The Glasgow Labour MP has attacked universal benefits such as free personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions and the removal of university tuition fees.

In his speech, he says: “How can you talk about social justice without talking about wealth redistribution? Not only is it that the SNP talk left and act right, although that’s certainly true, but that redistribution is one of the strongest arguments in favour of the United Kingdom,”

He adds: “Children, through their circumstances at birth, already have their life mapped out – poorer health, poorer education outcomes, reduced social opportunities, higher rates of alcoholism, addiction and mental illness…

“So while Alex Salmond plays politics by talking about the right to a free education being written in to a Scottish Constitution, by his own actions now in failing to tackle inequalities he is actively denying thousands of young people access to something he says is a right.”

Mr Sarwar’s speech follows a similar attack on Scotland’s universal benefit system by his leader Johann Lamont.  Ms Lamont set up a commission to look at what universal benefits could be cut whilst describing Scotland as a “something for nothing” country.

Ms Adamson added: “If Mr Sarwar was serious he would think for just a moment about the fact that 82% of Scotland’s MPs at Westminster voted against the iniquitous and unfair Bedroom tax.  Labour’s Cuts Commission plans to scrap universal benefits such as free personal care and bus travel for the elderly and no prescription charges – yet still want to waste up to £100 billion on Trident nuclear weapons

“At the same time his leader, Johann Lamont is now keen to end free Higher Education in Scotland and she needs to make absolutely clear to students what Labour plan to do.  Vague hints are simply not good enough when thousands of young people in Scotland are trying to plan their academic careers.

“In 1997 Labour promised not to introduce tuition fees, before promptly bringing in a charge of £1,000 a year.  Fast forward little more than a decade, and they have soared to as much as £9,000 a year south of the border.

“It is only thanks to the election of an SNP Government that these charges in Scotland are a thing of the past and it is only the SNP that continues to hold true to the principle of education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

“Labour’s track record on higher education funding is appalling – one broken promise back in 1997 has allowed the floodgates to open and fees to increase nine-fold.

“It is time for Johann Lamont to lay her cards on the table and be straight with students in Scotland over whether they would repeat the mistakes they made last time around by re-introducing fees.”

“Labour and the other Westminster parties want to roll back the achievements of the Scottish Parliament. The way to build on these achievements and have the strong economy and fair society we all want – and ensuring that Scotland always get the governments we vote for — is to vote Yes for independence in the referendum next autumn”

Related information:

1997: Ahead of the General Election, on 14 April the Evening Standard published a list of 50 questions for Tony Blair. Question six was: “Will Labour introduce tuition fees for higher education?”.  Blair’s response was: “Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.”

1998: Fees of £1000 are introduced when the Teaching and Higher Education Act is passed into law.

2001: In February ahead of the General Election, David Blunkett in his role as Education Secretary said there would be no top up fees if Labour won the election.  On February 8 2001, Blunkett told MPs: “I’ve made my position clear over the past two years that I am against top-up fees. But I can now make the government’s position clear. There will be no levying of top-up fees in the next parliament if we win the next election.”

2002: In November, Margaret Hodge in her role as Higher Education Secretary told students there was “no such thing as a free lunch”.  She continued: “Should the dustman continue to subsidise the doctor or should the doctor contribute towards the cost of their own education?”

2004: The maximum fee level is increased to £3000, despite a demonstration staged by 30,000 students in Trafalgar Square in London.

2005: Almost all universities set their fees at the maximum level of £3,000 per year.

2010: Labour leave office with fees of £3,000 in place.

2010 – present: The ConDem coalition has since increased fees to up to £9,000 per year.  This is an increase of 800% in just 14 years.

2011 – Labour manifesto for the Scottish elections promises “No upfront or back-end tuition fees for Scottish University Students” (p31)